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Tim Soulo

Tim Soulo

4 months ago

Here is why 90.63% of Pages Get No Traffic From Google. 

More on Technology

Amelia Winger-Bearskin

Amelia Winger-Bearskin

3 months ago

Reasons Why AI-Generated Images Remind Me of Nightmares

AI images are like funhouse mirrors.

Google's AI Blog introduced the puppy-slug in the summer of 2015.

Vice / DeepDream

Puppy-slug isn't a single image or character. "Puppy-slug" refers to Google's DeepDream's unsettling psychedelia. This tool uses convolutional neural networks to train models to recognize dataset entities. If researchers feed the model millions of dog pictures, the network will learn to recognize a dog.

DeepDream used neural networks to analyze and classify image data as well as generate its own images. DeepDream's early examples were created by training a convolutional network on dog images and asking it to add "dog-ness" to other images. The models analyzed images to find dog-like pixels and modified surrounding pixels to highlight them.

Puppy-slugs and other DeepDream images are ugly. Even when they don't trigger my trypophobia, they give me vertigo when my mind tries to reconcile familiar features and forms in unnatural, physically impossible arrangements. I feel like I've been poisoned by a forbidden mushroom or a noxious toad. I'm a Lovecraft character going mad from extradimensional exposure. They're gross!

Is this really how AIs see the world? This is possibly an even more unsettling topic that DeepDream raises than the blatant abjection of the images.

When these photographs originally circulated online, many friends were startled and scandalized. People imagined a computer's imagination would be literal, accurate, and boring. We didn't expect vivid hallucinations and organic-looking formations.

DeepDream's images didn't really show the machines' imaginations, at least not in the way that scared some people. DeepDream displays data visualizations. DeepDream reveals the "black box" of convolutional network training.

Some of these images look scary because the models don't "know" anything, at least not in the way we do.

These images are the result of advanced algorithms and calculators that compare pixel values. They can spot and reproduce trends from training data, but can't interpret it. If so, they'd know dogs have two eyes and one face per head. If machines can think creatively, they're keeping it quiet.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given OpenAI's Dall-impressive E's results. From a technological perspective, it's incredible.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dall-magic E's requires a lot of math, computer science, processing power, and research. OpenAI did a great job, and we should applaud them.

Dall-E and similar tools match words and phrases to image data to train generative models. Matching text to images requires sorting and defining the images. Untold millions of low-wage data entry workers, content creators optimizing images for SEO, and anyone who has used a Captcha to access a website make these decisions. These people could live and die without receiving credit for their work, even though the project wouldn't exist without them.

This technique produces images that are less like paintings and more like mirrors that reflect our own beliefs and ideals back at us, albeit via a very complex prism. Due to the limitations and biases that these models portray, we must exercise caution when viewing these images.

The issue was succinctly articulated by artist Mimi Onuoha in her piece "On Algorithmic Violence":

As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.

caroline sinders

caroline sinders

3 months ago

Holographic concerts are the AI of the Future.

the Uncanny Valley of ABBA Voyage

A few days ago, I was discussing dall-e with two art and tech pals. One artist acquaintance said she knew a frightened illustrator. Would the ability to create anything with a click derail her career? The artist feared this. My curator friend smiled and said this has always been a dread among artists. When the camera was invented, didn't painters say this? Even in the Instagram era, painting exists.

When art and technology collide, there's room for innovation, experimentation, and fear — especially if the technology replicates or replaces art making. What is art's future with dall-e? How does technology affect music, beyond visual art? Recently, I saw "ABBA Voyage," a holographic ABBA concert in London.

"Abba voyage?" my phone asked in early March. A Gen X friend I met through a fashion blogging ring texted me.

"What's abba Voyage?" I asked while opening my front door with keys and coffee.

We're going! Marti, visiting London, took me to a show.

"Absolutely no ABBA songs here." I responded.

My parents didn't play ABBA much, so I don't know much about them. Dad liked Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Deep Purple, and New Orleans jazz. Marti told me ABBA Voyage was a holographic ABBA show with a live band.

The show was fun, extraordinary fun. Nearly everyone on the dance floor wore wigs, ankle-breaking platforms, sequins, and bellbottoms. I saw some millennials and Zoomers among the boomers.

I was intoxicated by the experience.

Automatons date back to the 18th-century mechanical turk. The mechanical turk was a chess automaton operated by a person. The mechanical turk seemed to perform like a human without human intervention, but it required a human in the loop to work properly.

Humans have used non-humans in entertainment for centuries, such as puppets, shadow play, and smoke and mirrors. A show can have animatronic, technological, and non-technological elements, and a live show can blur real and illusion. From medieval puppet shows to mechanical turks to AI filters, bots, and holograms, entertainment has evolved over time.

I'm not a hologram skeptic, but I'm skeptical of technology, especially since I work with it. I love live performances, I love hearing singers breathe, forget lines, and make jokes. Live shows are my favorite because I love watching performers make mistakes or interact with the audience. ABBA Voyage was different.

Marti and I traveled to Manchester after ABBA Voyage to see Liam Gallagher. Similar but different vibe. Similar in that thousands dressed up for the show. ABBA's energy was dizzying. 90s chic replaced sequins in the crowd. Doc Martens, nylon jackets, bucket hats, shaggy hair. The Charlatans and Liam Gallagher opened and closed, respectively. Fireworks. Incredible. People went crazy. Yelling exhausted my voice.

This week in music featured AI-enabled holograms and a decades-old rocker. Both are warm and gooey in our memories.

After seeing both, I'm wondering if we need AI hologram shows. Why? Is it good?

Like everything tech-related, my answer is "maybe." Because context and performance matter. Liam Gallagher and ABBA both had great, different shows.

For a hologram to work, it must be impossible and big. It must be big, showy, and improbable to justify a hologram. It must feel...expensive, like a stadium pop show. According to a quick search, ABBA broke up on bad terms. Reuniting is unlikely. This is also why Prince or Tupac hologram shows work. We can only engage with their legacy through covers or...holograms.

I drove around listening to the radio a few weeks ago. "Dreaming of You" by Selena played. Selena's music defined my childhood. I sang along and turned up the volume (or as loud as my husband would allow me while driving on the highway).

I discovered Selena's music six months after her death, so I never saw her perform live. My babysitter Melissa played me her album after I moved to Houston. Melissa took me to see the Selena movie five times when it came out. I quickly wore out my VHS copy. I constantly sang "Bibi Bibi Bom Bom" and "Como la Flor." I love Selena. A Selena hologram? Yes, probably.

Instagram advertised a cellist's Arthur Russell tribute show. Russell is another deceased artist I love. I almost walked down the aisle to "This is How We Walk on the Moon," but our cellist couldn't find it. Instead, I walked to Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love." I "discovered" Russell after a friend introduced me to his music a few years ago.

I use these as analogies for the Liam Gallagher and ABBA concerts.

You have no idea how much I'd pay to see a hologram of Selena's 1995 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert. Arthur Russell's hologram is unnecessary. Russell's work was intimate and performance-based. We can't separate his life from his legacy; popular audiences overlooked his genius. He died of AIDS broke. Like Selena, he died prematurely. Given his music and history, another performer would be a better choice than a hologram. He's no Selena. Selena could have rivaled Beyonce.

Pop shows' size works for holograms. Along with ABBA holograms, there was an anime movie and a light show that would put Tron to shame. ABBA created a tourable stadium show. The event was lavish, expensive, and well-planned. Pop, unlike rock, isn't gritty. Liam Gallagher hologram? No longer impossible, it wouldn't work. He's touring. I'm not sure if a rockstar alone should be rendered as a hologram; it was the show that made ABBA a hologram.

Holograms, like AI, are part of the future of entertainment, but not all of it. Because only modern interpretations of Arthur Russell's work reveal his legacy. That's his legacy.

the ABBA holograms onstage, performing

Large-scale arena performers may use holograms in the future, but the experience must be impossible. A teacher once said that the only way to convey emotion in opera is through song, and I feel the same way about holograms, AR, VR, and mixed reality. A story's impossibility must make sense, like in opera. Impossibility and bombastic performance must be present for an immersive element to "work." ABBA was an impossible and improbable experience, which made it magical. It helped the holographic show work.

Marti told me about ABBA Voyage. She said it was a great concert. Marti has worked in music since the 1990s. She's a music expert; she's seen many shows.

Ai isn't a god or sentient, and the ABBA holograms aren't real. The renderings were glassy-eyed, flat, and robotic, like the Polar Express or the Jaws shark. Even today, the uncanny valley is insurmountable. We know it's not real because it's not about reality. It was about a suspended moment and performance feelings.

I knew this was impossible, an 'unreal' experience, but the emotions I felt were real, like watching a movie or tv show. Perhaps this is one of the better uses of AI, like CGI and special effects, like the beauty of entertainment- we were enraptured and entertained for hours. I've been playing ABBA since then.

Gajus Kuizinas

Gajus Kuizinas

19 days ago

How a few lines of code were able to eliminate a few million queries from the database

I was entering tens of millions of records per hour when I first published Slonik PostgreSQL client for Node.js. The data being entered was usually flat, making it straightforward to use INSERT INTO ... SELECT * FROM unnset() pattern. I advocated the unnest approach for inserting rows in groups (that was part I).

Bulk inserting nested data into the database

However, today I’ve found a better way: jsonb_to_recordset.

jsonb_to_recordset expands the top-level JSON array of objects to a set of rows having the composite type defined by an AS clause.

jsonb_to_recordset allows us to query and insert records from arbitrary JSON, like unnest. Since we're giving JSON to PostgreSQL instead of unnest, the final format is more expressive and powerful.

SELECT *
FROM json_to_recordset('[{"name":"John","tags":["foo","bar"]},{"name":"Jane","tags":["baz"]}]')
AS t1(name text, tags text[]);
 name |   tags
------+-----------
 John | {foo,bar}
 Jane | {baz}
(2 rows)

Let’s demonstrate how you would use it to insert data.

Inserting data using json_to_recordset

Say you need to insert a list of people with attributes into the database.

const persons = [
  {
    name: 'John',
    tags: ['foo', 'bar']
  },
  {
    name: 'Jane',
    tags: ['baz']
  }
];

You may be tempted to traverse through the array and insert each record separately, e.g.

for (const person of persons) {
  await pool.query(sql`
    INSERT INTO person (name, tags)
    VALUES (
      ${person.name},
      ${sql.array(person.tags, 'text[]')}
    )
  `);
}

It's easier to read and grasp when working with a few records. If you're like me and troubleshoot a 2M+ insert query per day, batching inserts may be beneficial.

What prompted the search for better alternatives.

Inserting using unnest pattern might look like this:

await pool.query(sql`
  INSERT INTO public.person (name, tags)
  SELECT t1.name, t1.tags::text[]
  FROM unnest(
    ${sql.array(['John', 'Jane'], 'text')},
    ${sql.array(['{foo,bar}', '{baz}'], 'text')}
  ) AS t1.(name, tags);
`);

You must convert arrays into PostgreSQL array strings and provide them as text arguments, which is unsightly. Iterating the array to create slices for each column is likewise unattractive.

However, with jsonb_to_recordset, we can:

await pool.query(sql`
  INSERT INTO person (name, tags)
  SELECT *
  FROM jsonb_to_recordset(${sql.jsonb(persons)}) AS t(name text, tags text[])
`);

In contrast to the unnest approach, using jsonb_to_recordset we can easily insert complex nested data structures, and we can pass the original JSON document to the query without needing to manipulate it.

In terms of performance they are also exactly the same. As such, my current recommendation is to prefer jsonb_to_recordset whenever inserting lots of rows or nested data structures.

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Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian

10 months ago

What is Terra? Your guide to the hot cryptocurrency

With cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether, and Dogecoin gyrating in value over the past few months, many people are looking at so-called stablecoins like Terra to invest in because of their more predictable prices.

Terraform Labs, which oversees the Terra cryptocurrency project, has benefited from its rising popularity. The company said recently that investors like Arrington Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Pantera Capital have pledged $150 million to help it incubate various crypto projects that are connected to Terra.

Terraform Labs and its partners have built apps that operate on the company’s blockchain technology that helps keep a permanent and shared record of the firm’s crypto-related financial transactions.

Here’s what you need to know about Terra and the company behind it.

What is Terra?

Terra is a blockchain project developed by Terraform Labs that powers the startup’s cryptocurrencies and financial apps. These cryptocurrencies include the Terra U.S. Dollar, or UST, that is pegged to the U.S. dollar through an algorithm.

Terra is a stablecoin that is intended to reduce the volatility endemic to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Some stablecoins, like Tether, are pegged to more conventional currencies, like the U.S. dollar, through cash and cash equivalents as opposed to an algorithm and associated reserve token.

To mint new UST tokens, a percentage of another digital token and reserve asset, Luna, is “burned.” If the demand for UST rises with more people using the currency, more Luna will be automatically burned and diverted to a community pool. That balancing act is supposed to help stabilize the price, to a degree.

“Luna directly benefits from the economic growth of the Terra economy, and it suffers from contractions of the Terra coin,” Terraform Labs CEO Do Kwon said.

Each time someone buys something—like an ice cream—using UST, that transaction generates a fee, similar to a credit card transaction. That fee is then distributed to people who own Luna tokens, similar to a stock dividend.

Who leads Terra?

The South Korean firm Terraform Labs was founded in 2018 by Daniel Shin and Kwon, who is now the company’s CEO. Kwon is a 29-year-old former Microsoft employee; Shin now heads the Chai online payment service, a Terra partner. Kwon said many Koreans have used the Chai service to buy goods like movie tickets using Terra cryptocurrency.

Terraform Labs does not make money from transactions using its crypto and instead relies on outside funding to operate, Kwon said. It has raised $57 million in funding from investors like HashKey Digital Asset Group, Divergence Digital Currency Fund, and Huobi Capital, according to deal-tracking service PitchBook. The amount raised is in addition to the latest $150 million funding commitment announced on July 16.

What are Terra’s plans?

Terraform Labs plans to use Terra’s blockchain and its associated cryptocurrencies—including one pegged to the Korean won—to create a digital financial system independent of major banks and fintech-app makers. So far, its main source of growth has been in Korea, where people have bought goods at stores, like coffee, using the Chai payment app that’s built on Terra’s blockchain. Kwon said the company’s associated Mirror trading app is experiencing growth in China and Thailand.

Meanwhile, Kwon said Terraform Labs would use its latest $150 million in funding to invest in groups that build financial apps on Terra’s blockchain. He likened the scouting and investing in other groups as akin to a “Y Combinator demo day type of situation,” a reference to the popular startup pitch event organized by early-stage investor Y Combinator.

The combination of all these Terra-specific financial apps shows that Terraform Labs is “almost creating a kind of bank,” said Ryan Watkins, a senior research analyst at cryptocurrency consultancy Messari.

In addition to cryptocurrencies, Terraform Labs has a number of other projects including the Anchor app, a high-yield savings account for holders of the group’s digital coins. Meanwhile, people can use the firm’s associated Mirror app to create synthetic financial assets that mimic more conventional ones, like “tokenized” representations of corporate stocks. These synthetic assets are supposed to be helpful to people like “a small retail trader in Thailand” who can more easily buy shares and “get some exposure to the upside” of stocks that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to obtain, Kwon said. But some critics have said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission may eventually crack down on synthetic stocks, which are currently unregulated.

What do critics say?

Terra still has a long way to go to catch up to bigger cryptocurrency projects like Ethereum.

Most financial transactions involving Terra-related cryptocurrencies have originated in Korea, where its founders are based. Although Terra is becoming more popular in Korea thanks to rising interest in its partner Chai, it’s too early to say whether Terra-related currencies will gain traction in other countries.

Terra’s blockchain runs on a “limited number of nodes,” said Messari’s Watkins, referring to the computers that help keep the system running. That helps reduce latency that may otherwise slow processing of financial transactions, he said.

But the tradeoff is that Terra is less “decentralized” than other blockchain platforms like Ethereum, which is powered by thousands of interconnected computing nodes worldwide. That could make Terra less appealing to some blockchain purists.

Adam Frank

Adam Frank

3 months ago

Humanity is not even a Type 1 civilization. What might a Type 3 be capable of?

The Kardashev scale grades civilizations from Type 1 to Type 3 based on energy harvesting.

How do technologically proficient civilizations emerge across timescales measuring in the tens of thousands or even millions of years? This is a question that worries me as a researcher in the search for “technosignatures” from other civilizations on other worlds. Since it is already established that longer-lived civilizations are the ones we are most likely to detect, knowing something about their prospective evolutionary trajectories could be translated into improved search tactics. But even more than knowing what to seek for, what I really want to know is what happens to a society after so long time. What are they capable of? What do they become?

This was the question Russian SETI pioneer Nikolai Kardashev asked himself back in 1964. His answer was the now-famous “Kardashev Scale.” Kardashev was the first, although not the last, scientist to try and define the processes (or stages) of the evolution of civilizations. Today, I want to launch a series on this question. It is crucial to technosignature studies (of which our NASA team is hard at work), and it is also important for comprehending what might lay ahead for mankind if we manage to get through the bottlenecks we have now.

The Kardashev scale

Kardashev’s question can be expressed another way. What milestones in a civilization’s advancement up the ladder of technical complexity will be universal? The main notion here is that all (or at least most) civilizations will pass through some kind of definable stages as they progress, and some of these steps might be mirrored in how we could identify them. But, while Kardashev’s major focus was identifying signals from exo-civilizations, his scale gave us a clear way to think about their evolution.

The classification scheme Kardashev employed was not based on social systems of ethics because they are something that we can probably never predict about alien cultures. Instead, it was built on energy, which is something near and dear to the heart of everybody trained in physics. Energy use might offer the basis for universal stages of civilisation progression because you cannot do the work of establishing a civilization without consuming energy. So, Kardashev looked at what energy sources were accessible to civilizations as they evolved technologically and used those to build his scale.

From Kardashev’s perspective, there are three primary levels or “types” of advancement in terms of harvesting energy through which a civilization should progress.

Type 1: Civilizations that can capture all the energy resources of their native planet constitute the first stage. This would imply capturing all the light energy that falls on a world from its host star. This makes it reasonable, given solar energy will be the largest source available on most planets where life could form. For example, Earth absorbs hundreds of atomic bombs’ worth of energy from the Sun every second. That is a rather formidable energy source, and a Type 1 race would have all this power at their disposal for civilization construction.

Type 2: These civilizations can extract the whole energy resources of their home star. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Freeman Dyson famously anticipated Kardashev’s thinking on this when he imagined an advanced civilization erecting a large sphere around its star. This “Dyson Sphere” would be a machine the size of the complete solar system for gathering stellar photons and their energy.

Type 3: These super-civilizations could use all the energy produced by all the stars in their home galaxy. A normal galaxy has a few hundred billion stars, so that is a whole lot of energy. One way this may be done is if the civilization covered every star in their galaxy with Dyson spheres, but there could also be more inventive approaches.

Implications of the Kardashev scale

Climbing from Type 1 upward, we travel from the imaginable to the god-like. For example, it is not hard to envisage utilizing lots of big satellites in space to gather solar energy and then beaming that energy down to Earth via microwaves. That would get us to a Type 1 civilization. But creating a Dyson sphere would require chewing up whole planets. How long until we obtain that level of power? How would we have to change to get there? And once we get to Type 3 civilizations, we are virtually thinking about gods with the potential to engineer the entire cosmos.

For me, this is part of the point of the Kardashev scale. Its application for thinking about identifying technosignatures is crucial, but even more strong is its capacity to help us shape our imaginations. The mind might become blank staring across hundreds or thousands of millennia, and so we need tools and guides to focus our attention. That may be the only way to see what life might become — what we might become — once it arises to start out beyond the boundaries of space and time and potential.


This is a summary. Read the full article here.

Jan-Patrick Barnert

Jan-Patrick Barnert

5 months ago

Wall Street's Bear Market May Stick Around

If history is any guide, this bear market might be long and severe.

This is the S&P 500 Index's fourth such incident in 20 years. The last bear market of 2020 was a "shock trade" caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, although earlier ones in 2000 and 2008 took longer to bottom out and recover.

Peter Garnry, head of equities strategy at Saxo Bank A/S, compares the current selloff to the dotcom bust of 2000 and the 1973-1974 bear market marked by soaring oil prices connected to an OPEC oil embargo. He blamed high tech valuations and the commodity crises.

"This drop might stretch over a year and reach 35%," Garnry wrote.

Here are six bear market charts.

Time/depth

The S&P 500 Index plummeted 51% between 2000 and 2002 and 58% during the global financial crisis; it took more than 1,000 trading days to recover. The former took 638 days to reach a bottom, while the latter took 352 days, suggesting the present selloff is young.

Valuations

Before the tech bubble burst in 2000, valuations were high. The S&P 500's forward P/E was 25 times then. Before the market fell this year, ahead values were near 24. Before the global financial crisis, stocks were relatively inexpensive, but valuations dropped more than 40%, compared to less than 30% now.

Earnings

Every stock crash, especially earlier bear markets, returned stocks to fundamentals. The S&P 500 decouples from earnings trends but eventually recouples.

Support

Central banks won't support equity investors just now. The end of massive monetary easing will terminate a two-year bull run that was among the strongest ever, and equities may struggle without cheap money. After years of "don't fight the Fed," investors must embrace a new strategy.

Bear Haunting Bear

If the past is any indication, rising government bond yields are bad news. After the financial crisis, skyrocketing rates and a falling euro pushed European stock markets back into bear territory in 2011.

Inflation/rates

The current monetary policy climate differs from past bear markets. This is the first time in a while that markets face significant inflation and rising rates.


This post is a summary. Read full article here